Tag Archives: Marsh Harrier

Chilly day at Rye Harbour

It’s Tuesday early evening and I’ve just realised that tomorrow is going to be a perfect day for photography. A quick check on the tide tables and weather websites and a phone call to the boss and I’m set for an early start (thanks boss!)

I have a plan but I’m always in two minds about what to do. I’ve decided to start at the harbour end as the sun rises, mainly to try for wildfowl and the kingfishers, then off to Pett Pools for lunchtime to see if the Glossy Ibis is still about and finally back to Rye for Castle Water hide and try at the Barn Owl as the sun drops.

It’s a freezing morning – the second in a row at about -4 degrees. Even with my 2 pairs of gloves (one thin pair so I can still operate the camera) my hands are frozen as I walk towards the hide. Theres a bit of a commotion on the other side of the reserve and I can see a huge flock of plovers as they wheel in the glowing pre-dawn sky. This image is a small part of the flock. There must have been several thousand birds in the sky.

Golden Plover flock at dawn

Golden Plover flock at dawn

Dawn flock

Dawn flock

 

I can see that large areas of water have frozen over which may make for some interesting images. Sure enough, as I slowly peep through the hide window as I open it I can see a large amount of wildfowl right in front of the hide. A good start! The birds have been concentrated into the left side of the pool due to a sheet of ice covering the right half. There are hundreds of Widgeon, their whistling calls an integral part of the winter soundscape. They are joined by Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Coots, Little Grebes and a few geese, the most notable being a Brent goose that’s resting close by.

The birds are moving in and out of the area close to the hide and it’s actually the Gadwall that present the best chances for images.

 

Gadwall at sunrise

Gadwall at sunrise

Gadwall head on

Gadwall head on

Many of the other ducks just seemed to be glad the night was over and were warming up in the dawn sun…

Widgeon at dawn on frosty morning

Widgeon at dawn on frosty morning

Mallard takeoff

Mallard takeoff

To give you an idea of the view outside the hide and the numbers of birds I took a couple of images….

Wildfowl at Rye

Wildfowl at Rye

Wildfowl at Rye taken with wider view

Wildfowl at Rye taken with wider view

As with my last visit there were good numbers of Little Grebe amongst the other birds and again showing their skill at catching fish –

Little Grebe with fish

Little Grebe with fish

So how did I get on with the Kingfishers? When I arrived the perches in front of the hide were covered in frost and looking perfect. I just needed the bird to turn up before the sun melted it. It did turn up….and sat there for all of 2 seconds before zipping off down towards the cottage. I think the number of ducks around the perches put it off but …I’ll never know.

What I did see over on the lake next to the narrow pit path was a pair of kingfishers zipping back and forth. They were a long way off and I couldn’t quite see what they were up to. I took a couple of shots just to see when I got home and I believe they were two males having some kind of dispute. They got into a little bit of a spat so it may have been a territorial thing. This next image shows that they were getting aggressive – it’s a poor image and a huge crop but I thought it of interest…

Kingfisher Fight (large crop)

Kingfisher Fight (large crop)

A quick check out from the other hide showed it was quite quiet (within lens range) apart from a small group of roosting Lapwing. Beautfiul birds with a very distinctive call.

Lapwings on ice

Lapwings on ice

Having checked the tides I knew that high tide had been around 6am and that the water would be dropping enough that there may be some waders feeding over near the harbour mouth. As it was mid week I thought I’d give this a try – at weekends and later in the day it’s just too busy and these days it seems a high percentage of people have their dogs running all over the place so waiting for waders to come to you is just an exercise in frustration. It’s the main reason you don’t find me at the harbour end very often.

That said, there were quite a few Turnstones, Redshank, Ringed Plover and the odd feeding Oystercatcher to try and photograph. They didn’t seem bothered by the huge lorries that were back and forth as part of the sea defence works so I walked close to the wall on the channel side, found a dry flat rock, sat down and wrapped the bag hide around the tripod to hide my shape. This is a tip that pays dividends. Not being seen is half the battle in getting decent images and just being behind a non descript shape and hiding the human form can mean you are ignored by the birds.

It took a while but eventually a few came close enough to photograph –

Redshank looking for food

Redshank looking for food

Oystercatcher pulling worm

Oystercatcher pulling worm

Oystercatcher calling

Oystercatcher calling

There were also a small flock of Ringed Plover slowly making their way towards me as they picked tidbits from the weed and sand. I had the camera trained on them and was about 2 minutes away from them being close enough to start taking images when one of the workmen above slammed his car boot shut – every bird gone. Arrrrggggggggggh!. Not his fault, doubt he even had a clue I was even there but frustrating none the less. What I would give for places to go where other people can’t spook the birds. Oh well time to move.

I stuck to my plan and headed down to Pett Pools to see if the long staying Glossy Ibis was there. Unfortunately it was really quiet so I took the opportunity to just rest and have some lunch for 20 minutes. A week or so ago I did head there with my friend Mali and had some ok views of the bird. Not as good as he had achieved on some visits before but there was something in common – total idiots driving past and giving loud blasts on their car horns. Another example of the selfishness that makes my blood boil. No reason to do that other than bloody mindedness. Maybe I’ll get a chance to stand in front of their view when they are trying to watch their team in the FA cup final. I’m sure they would find that funny. What was refreshing though was meeting two families that were also looking for the bird, really pleasant people with a genuine interest for wildlife. Helped to restore my faith in humanity a little bit.

Part 3 of the plan was to head back out to Castle Water. The walk out wasn’t very productive for images although there were notable numbers of geese feeding in the sheep fields along the way. I reached the hide and very slowly opened the door…..only to find that someone had left every single window open and the birds saw a large flash of light from the sun behind suddenly light everything up….cue hundreds of birds that were right outside the hide scarpering across the water. Thanks…

A large area of the water was frozen (to the right) and again large numbers of widgeon and teal made up the bulk of the birds. Plenty of movement but, as is often with this hide, they tend to fly just a little too far away from the hide for decent flight shots. Some of the coots were having a few issues with the ice though..

Skating Coot

Skating Coot

I have to say that following the work that’s been done to improve the landscaping out from this hide it certainly feels like it’s going to be an even greater place for images / birdwatching. There are kingfisher perches quite close (no views this day but it did visit last time) and with the water being alot closer, the birds will come in that little bit more (if not disturbed!) which may offer some decent chances. Really appreciate the efforts of the Sussex Wildlife Trust to make the reserve the best it can be.

One bird you can pretty much guarantee to show up at some point is the Marsh Harrier and sure enough the scattering of birds was the telltale sign that one was incoming….

Wildfowl flock takes flight as a Marsh Harrier approaches

Wildfowl flock takes flight as a Marsh Harrier approaches

These are mainly Teal with the odd Mallard and Gadwall. What I did notice when processing the image was the Tufted Duck at the bottom left of the image. It occured to me that of course they tend not to fly away when an aerial predator approaches as they are a diving duck – they can just dip under the water!

Marsh Harrier on the hunt

Marsh Harrier on the hunt

Marsh Harriers are notoriously difficult to get good images of. They have such keen eyesight that the slightest movement will have them veering away so unless you are hidden your chances of getting a “keeper” photograph are slim. Even the hide is sometimes not enough as they seem to spot you long before they are in range for a good shot. When you do get a good opportunity you’ll want to try and make the most of it…..which is exactly what i didn’t do this time. When the bird came close and veered a little I managed to clip the wings…..even with lots of practice I still don’t get it right everytime, I guess that’s part of the attraction, you just never know if it’s going to be your day!. This is the “close but no cigar” shot. I know some may look at this and think “what’s wrong with that?” but I can’t help see the missed chance….next time!-

Marsh Harrier in flight

Marsh Harrier in flight

Another bird I hoped to see but wasn’t sure I would was the Water Rail. A secretive and skulking bird, often the only views will be as it dashes between the reeds. Due to area still being a bit bare out front I didn’t think they would be using it. A movement from the corner of my eye alerted me to a rail dashing from the gorse (first time i’ve seen that) into the largest clump of reeds. Being an incredibly still day with not even a breath of wind, I expected to see the reeds moving to give away the birds location and was surprised that it didn’t move a single stem and suddenly appeared at the edge and did a quick half flight into the next clump. This time I had a good idea where it would exit so trained the lens ready…

Water Rail amongst reeds

Water Rail amongst reeds

Water Rail dashing through reeds

Water Rail dashing through reeds

One final bird worth a mention before I move away from the hide is the Pintail Duck, a smart looking bird that decided to have a bit of a wash out from the hide….

Pintail washing

Pintail washing

The sun is finally starting to drop and I need to get in place for a chance to see the Barn Owl. I never get tired of photographing these amazing birds, there’s something about the way they fly, the way they just seem to appear and glide silently across the fields which makes every encounter quite special.

While waiting I couldn’t help grabbing a shot of the reeds glowing gold –

Reedbed at sunset

Reedbed at sunset

…and as I turn back to the field the owl has suddenly appeared. Unbelievable! once more I have no idea which direction it arrived from. Perfect light and a fantastic bird made for some lovely images –

Barn Owl at sunset

Barn Owl at sunset

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl diving after prey

Barn Owl incoming!

Barn Owl incoming!

Barn Owl eye contact

Barn Owl eye contact

Whilst Barn Owls can sometimes be accommodating, to get these shots I’m hidden under my bag hide, sat low to hide my shape. The Owl has heard the shutter in the lower shots and is glancing over to see what the noise is. It’s a fraction of a second before it continues that beautiful ghostly flight as it quarters the field.

The owl then disappeared  – after waiting some time I looked out to scan the area but there was no further sign. Another chance to grab the dying sun in the reeds –

As the sun sets

As the sun sets

There was to be one final surprise. I did get a far glimpse of the owl again so back under the hide I went. This time I didn’t take any images as it flew close, I waited, barely daring to breath as it got closer and closer then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw it spin mid air and come down to land. Moving so slowly it was barely visible I looked above the lens and could see the owl perched just 30 yards away. I brought the lens round so so slowly while I muttered “please don’t fly, please don’t fly” under my breath. The reward was a shot I’ve been after for years. I’ll let them speak for themselves. Apologies this post has been so long, I feel I’ve hardly had a chance to get out and a decent update was well overdue. Hope you enjoyed….

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl on perch

Barn Owl in perfect pose

Barn Owl in perfect pose

 

 

 

Posted in Birds, Nikon D7200, Photography, Rye Harbour, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

A first visit to Stodmarsh NNR, Kent

I’ve made a small vow this year to travel to some of the reserves that take a little longer to get to and made a start by heading to Stodmarsh, just outside Canterbury. Considering this was early April, spring hadn’t yet bothered to show up and the car dashboard was telling me it was -4.5 degrees on the drive over at 5am. A chilly but beautiful sunny day found us arriving and taking our (my wife Maria also came along) first steps on the reserve. I have to say I was really impressed. So many opportunities await in this place. The reserve sits on the flood plain of the river Great Stour and is a huge reedbed interspersed with a few woody areas. There are a few hides to visit and a lovely walk right round the valley that takes you through the reedbed.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) – Nikon D300 with Nikon 500mm, 1/1250s, f5.6, ISO320, -0.3EV, 1.4 Converter

We chose to visit the closest (Reedbed) hide which overlooks a lovely shallow lagoon. We could straight away see a Great Crested Grebe fishing in the shallow water, a bird which I can’t help but try to get images of –

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceos cristatus)

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) – Nikon D300 with Nikon 500mm, 1/1250s, f5.6, ISO320, -0.3EV, 1.4 Converter

This bird was hunted for fashion reasons in the past, almost to extinction in this country, but thankfully now is a familiar site.

We also had great views of a Marsh Harrier flying low over the reedbed, it wasn’t particularly close but I think this image helps to show the amazing habitat –

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus)

Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) – Nikon D300 with Nikon 500mm, 1/1600s, f5, ISO320

We had heard that a Penduline Tit had been showing quite well but despite getting directions we couldn’t see where it was meant to be. I did find some other fantastic locations that looked likely given the number of bullrush seedheads but no bird. We then chose to walk around the reserve, through the reedbed and were treated to view of Bearded Tits (no photos this time!) giving away their location with pinging calls that carried well in the stillness. Definitely a place to try again for this species. We also spotted more Harriers ( no surprise given this location) and a Water rail zipped across the path. Finding ourselves at the Marsh Hide, a quick glance inside showed it to be very busy (even though it was very early still) so I decided to give it a miss. It wasn’t until i’d taken a few steps away that I realised that all the lenses were pointing in the same direction and it clicked that something of interest must be about. I could just about see over the reeds and spotted a very big grey bird in the distance which turned out to be a Crane, the first time I’ve ever seen one. I decided I had to try and get a couple of shots, even just a record shot would do, I just couldn’t pass it up. I popped on the 1.4 converter to get the extra reach and managed to find a little space with which to get a better view and a few snaps.

 

Crane (Grus grus)

Crane (Grus grus) – Nikon D300 with Nikon 500mm, 1/1000s, f5.6, ISO200, -0.3EV, 1.4x converter

 

Crane (Grus grus)

Crane (Grus grus) – Nikon D300 with Nikon 500mm, 1/1000s, f5.6, ISO200, -0.3EV, 1.4x converter

Although this is a BIG bird, much larger than a Grey heron, it was a long way off so I’m really pleased with the images I managed.

Continuing our walk we ended up following the path right round through the reedbed, across some fields and back along the riverside. The woodlands where the path bends back towards where we started held lots of small birds and it was a bonus to spot a few Bullfinches moving around. I also saw my first chiffchaffs of the year. I did get some images but they were instant deletes, these birds don’t sit still for a second and I dodn’t get any I liked. Still good to see though. We ended up passing the tower hide, a hide that is much higher as the name suggests and overlooks a large expanse of water. I didn’t go in here but would think that it would be good in the winter for wildfowl. I nipped back in to the reedbed hide before leaving and managed a few last shots –

Teal (Anas crecca)

Teal (Anas crecca) – Nikon D300 with Nikon 500mm, 1/1000s, f5, ISO200, -0.3ev

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor)

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) – Nikon D300 with Nikon 500mm, 1/1600s, f4.5, ISO320, -0.3EV

Definitely a place I’d like to go back to. If you are interested you can find information HERE

Posted in Birds, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , , |

Welcome weather, unwelcome visitor

It feels like I’ve been waiting weeks for some decent weather to get out with the camera and finally last week there was a tiny break that promised a little sunshine after the recent snow. I just had to take it and along with my wife, headed off to Dungeness.

We arrived a little after sunrise and headed into the main reserve before even the Tree Sparrows were up and about. The light was good though, the cloudless sky a lovely blue. Dunnocks were in good voice and the rabbits scampered away on the frosty ground. As we headed towards the viewpoint there were at least two Marsh Harriers in the air, one of which headed right towards us before banking away, offering an incredible view.

 

Majestic Marsh Harrier

Majestic Marsh Harrier

Such a spectacular sight and a great start to the day. From the viewing point we also spotted (but no decent images of) Bitterns and Bearded Tits. I find this spot to be very relaxing and always spend a little time here on a visit. Maria was checking out the adjacent pool and reeds when she said “I’ve just seen either a stoat or a mink running along the path”. I quickly set the camera pointing along the track and sure enough, out of the bright sunshine casually strolls a Mink. Now normally I shoot 100% in manual mode but today I was trying out Aperture mode and allowing the camera to do some of the work. Bad idea in this instance – dark animal running with bright sun behind it and then standing in front of a pile of snow. The result was that I totally blew all the highlights. Massive shame but we all make mistakes. I did however manage to process a couple of images to show you how the animal looks (just ignore the botched highlights!)

Running Mink

Running Mink

Mink side portrait

Mink side portrait

Standing Mink

Standing Mink

Lovely as it was to see an animal such as this, it’s a little worrying considering they are an extremely efficient predator and have caused massive issues since being released from mink farms.

The mink was not the only predator looking for a meal on this cold morning so little surprise the rabbits were edgy.

 

A Fox hunts in the winter sun

A Fox hunts in the winter sun

Frosty morning, alert rabbit

Frosty morning, alert rabbit

After walking back via the main entrance we headed over to the other side of the road. From the ARC Hanson hide we spotted one of the Great White Egrets along with Smew and Goldeneye and had views of a Firecrest outside the hide with Goldcrest and Chiff Chaffs in the scrub close by. We decided to head to the screen as we had been told there were a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying outside. Sure enough they were there and we waited a while before they looked like they were starting some courtship behaviour with mirroring movements and offers of weed. However, just as this started, a couple of birdwatchers turned up, and made enough noise to scare them off. Perhaps you may be happy to view stuff at 300 yards across the lake but at least TRY to have some consideration for others. so frustrating to watch the birds heading off at speed. Note to self…try and find places where i won’t be disturbed!

We decided to head out as lots more people were arriving, popping into Rye Harbour on the way home. Really I wanted to see how the Black Headed Gulls were getting on as I really look forward to when they are in full breeding with hundreds of argumentative birds wheeling, diving, fighting and making lots of noise. They were making a start, the squabble for pitches has started and will increase greatly in the next few weeks. Not too much of interest photo wise with the gulls but a Little Grebe successfully fishing close in front of the hide was handy –

 

 

Little Grebe catches a fish

Little Grebe catches a fish

Finally with lots of Oystercatchers roosting over high water, one or two did come close enough to attempt a flight shot. Not normally a strong point of mine but practice makes perfect. Not quite perfect but am improving at least!

 

Oyster Catcher flypast

Oyster Catcher flypast

Posted in Birds, Dungeness, Mammals, Photography, Wildlife Photography Also tagged , , , , |